The following is today’s editorial from Melbourne’s The Age newspaper:
It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age‘s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.
The Age does not advocate this lightly. We do so with all respect to Ms Gillard, recognising that in the three years she has occupied the office of Prime Minister – most of it under the vexing circumstances of a hung Parliament – Labor has implemented landmark reforms, which we hope will remain. We are not saying Ms Gillard should stand aside because of Labor’s policies, but because she has been unable to lift the party out of a desperately difficult political position.
A big majority of the electorate appears to have stopped listening to Ms Gillard. Voters have been so distracted by internal and external speculation about Labor’s leadership that efforts by the Prime Minister and her ministers to enunciate a narrative, a strategic vision, for the nation’s future beyond this year have failed. If our national political discourse continues in this way, the outcome is writ large: Labor would face a devastating loss in September. Outright control of both houses may be delivered to the Coalition and, more importantly for our democracy, the opportunity for Labor to present a vigorous opposition in Parliament would be diminished.
Ms Gillard came to the office of Prime Minister three years ago, in bitter circumstances, after deposing Kevin Rudd in a caucus challenge, which he did not contest. The polls in mid-2010 had indicated Labor was in danger of losing an election under Mr Rudd, and inside the party there was concern about his increasingly autocratic style. Ms Gillard said she challenged ”because I believed that a good government was losing its way … I love this country, and I was not going to sit idly by and watch an incoming opposition cut education, cut health and smash rights at work”. The Age at the time interpreted her to mean that the Rudd government ”had struggled to explain and justify its policies to voters, and to remind them of its achievements”. The situation is eerily similar today. Unfortunately, the government under Ms Gillard has lost its way. And despite her entreaties to Labor’s caucus to stick fast, nothing appears to be changing. No one in Labor has stepped onto the front foot with confidence to reinvigorate the divided and demoralised parliamentary party. The onus falls on Ms Gillard to break the impasse.
The electorate is despairing of the uncertainty and the petty back-biting within Labor. The Age is more despairing of the vacuum in policy debate. Mr Rudd was a flawed leader as prime minister, but he says he is a changed man and that he has learnt much from losing the confidence of his party room. The Age is not entirely convinced about that, but we cannot ignore the clear and consistent evidence of the opinion polls that his return to the leadership would lift Labor’s stocks and enhance its prospects of making the election a genuine contest.
Australians deserve a representative Parliament of diverse ideas. They deserve authoritative and inspiring leaders, who command with compassion and respect for all. They deserve a government that can clearly describe a future Australia of which we can all be proud – not one that will divide, marginalise or exclude. They deserve more than to be thrown scraps of policies couched in negative terms, or policies that are not properly scrutinised and debated. As it stands, the Coalition is being given a free run by a Labor Party which is tormented by its own frailties; too many of the Coalition’s proposed policies, some little more than slogans, are sliding through.
The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.
Time is running out. Labor needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.Source: The Age – For the sake of the nation, Ms Gillard should stand aside
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